Provocative, richly detailed reading.

THE HOME THAT WAS OUR COUNTRY

A MEMOIR OF SYRIA

A Syrian-American journalist/civil rights lawyer interweaves narratives about her family with the history of modern Syria.

Malek (A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories, 2009, etc.) moved to Damascus in the wake of the Arab Spring. Brimming with optimism, she intended to finish restoration work on her grandmother Salma’s house while helping Syria transition from “decades of stifling and corrupt dictatorship.” But by 2013, she had returned to the United States, disillusioned. In this book, the author narrates a multigenerational family saga that begins with a charismatic maternal great-grandfather but focuses mostly on Salma’s life. When a newlywed Salma moved into the house that Malek would finish restoring more than 60 years later, Syria was independent from Ottoman rule and French influence. Like Salma’s life, the country was “more potential and possibility than broken promises.” Both Damascus and Salma’s apartment building were home to people from all walks of Middle Eastern life: “Turks, Kurds, Arabs…all of different classes, some Christian and others Muslim.” By 1970, the year Hafez al-Assad staged the coup that would catapult him into power, Salma lost the rights to her apartment, which Malek’s parents would not be able to reclaim for three decades. By the time they did, Syria had become a place in which the government divided the people from each other through tactics intended to breed fear and distrust. After anti-government, pro-democracy protests and uprisings swept through Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world, Malek decided to return to the place where she had been conceived but from which she and her parents seemed destined to be separated. However, as an independent, unmarried American female, she felt unwelcome. Some of her relatives wanted her to leave because they feared for her safety and their own, while others saw her presence as a way to “curry favor with the [al Assad] regime.” Moving and insightful, Malek’s memoir combines sharp-eyed observations of Syrian politics, only occasionally overdone, with elegiac commentary on home, exile, and a bygone era.

Provocative, richly detailed reading.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56858-532-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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